WASHINGTON -- Two days before the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Senate yesterday overwhelmingly
approved a $1 billion anti-terrorism measure that would make it easier to track and punish terrorists and hasten executions of convicts on death row.
The bill, which passed 91-8, now goes to the House, where it is expected to win approval by tomorrow's anniversary of the bombing last year that killed 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and awakened the nation to the threat of home-grown terrorism.
President Clinton has indicated that he will sign the measure, even though it excludes several provisions requested by his administration -- including expanded authority to wiretap suspected terrorists and mandatory use of "taggants" to track ,, explosive materials.
Those provisions and others were removed at the insistence of House conservatives who feared the original measure would give too much authority and discretion to federal officials.
The final legislation includes provisions enabling the government speedily deport foreign citizens who are suspected of terrorism and prohibiting any person or organization in the United States from raising or providing funds for terrorist groups. It also makes it a federal offense to transfer explosives with the knowledge that they will be used to commit a violent crime.
Among the provisions are ones that allow crimes committed overseas to be prosecuted in the United States if part of the conspiracy took place in the United States; provide for a new, expedited procedure for deporting aliens suspected of terrorism based on classified evidence; authorize the attorney general to extradite aliens suspected of terrorism even in the absence of an extradition treaty; allow the Immigration and Naturalization Service to release confidential information for law enforcement purposes; and grant $940 million in new counterterrorist funding for the FBI and other agencies.
"We have a measure that will give us a strong upper hand in the battle to prevent and punish domestic and international terrorism," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a Kansas Republican.
But Democrats, who waged a day-and-a-half attempt to send the bill back to a conference committee to reinstate the provisions that had been stripped out, were less laudatory.
"If we cannot enact a strong and decisive anti-terrorism bill, this measure will do at least some good," said Sen. Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat. "But the record should be clear -- crystal clear -- that we should have done better."
The measure was conceived in response to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York City and was focused on foreign terrorism. But after the Oklahoma City blast, it was broadened to include provisions directed at countering domestic terrorism as well.
The Senate approved a tough anti-terrorism measure that included many of the initiatives sought by Mr. Clinton. But in the House, an unusual alliance of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans succeeded in watering down the measure, stripping out many provisions they contended would give the government too much authority to infringe on constitutional freedoms and intrude in Americans' lives.
The compromise version, which was approved by the Senate yesterday, restored some measures rejected by the House and was the result of many weeks of difficult negotiations in a conference committee.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was the manager of the bill on the floor. He repeatedly urged his colleagues not to send the measure back to the conference committee, saying that Congress should honor the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing by passing the measure before the anniversary of the tragedy.
Pub Date: 4/18/96